An unforgettable day on Quandary
December 5, 2009
Last August, a man from Wyoming named Kevin was hiking Quandary Peak with his fiancee and her friend. Kevin was not feeling well for much of that hike, but he and his friends thought it must be due to mild altitude sickness. Just as they approached the summit of the 14,000 foot peak, Kevin collapsed and died.
Kevin’s death was tragic and unexpected. And the body recovery of a large man from an elevation of 14,000 feet meant a long, arduous mission for the Summit County Rescue Group. But what truly made this a remarkable event were the efforts of the hikers on Quandary that day to save a man’s life.
It started with several hikers who were near Kevin and his fiancee when he collapsed. One of them was a nurse, and she took charge, asking someone to make a 911 call and directing others to help move Kevin to a flat surface. A group of hikers began CPR. A hiker with a walkie talkie alerted his friends higher up on the mountain, and one of them ran back up to the summit because he’d overheard another group’s conversation and knew there was a doctor up there. The doctor ran at breakneck speed down the mountain and took control of the CPR. A second doctor arrived and pitched in, also running down from the summit. Other hikers ran to render assistance, taking turns at CPR for nearly 45 minutes. Many of them stayed with Kevin’s fiancee after he was pronounced dead, and one of the doctors even hiked all the way down the mountain with her. By the time we arrived on scene it was all over, despite the fact that some of us arrived by helicopter.
It was a remarkable display not only of the willingness of strangers to go out of their way to help, but also of teamwork between a large group of people who had never even met before. Ultimately, the teamwork on Quandary Peak didn’t save Kevin’s life. But if it had been possible to save him that day, the team that was up there would have achieved it.
In the months that followed, the sheriff’s office collected a lot of statements from witnesses and a few people sent us e-mails or commented on blogs about what happened that day. It took a long time to sort it all out, but eventually we identified 13 people that we wanted to thank, some of them from Front Range cities and others from as far away as Missouri and Wisconsin. Commendations were sent out from Sheriff John Minor to those 13 people recently. Some of them read:
“This Sheriff’s Commendation is presented for assisting in the effort to save a man’s life on Quandary Peak on August 28, 2009. The citizens of Summit County, the Summit County Rescue Group and the Summit County Office of the Sheriff would like to express their deepest appreciation for your caring and compassionate assistance.”
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The members of the Summit County Rescue Group have had the privilege of meeting Good Samaritans out on the trail many times before. We’ve seen people drop whatever they’re doing to help us find someone, or to stay with an injured person in the backcountry, or to hike out and make a 911 call. But we saw something more than that on Quandary last August. As we hiked up the East Ridge trail to retrieve Kevin’s body, we passed most of the hikers who had been involved as they came back down. Their faces were somber and many of them stopped to talk to us. They thanked us for what we do. We believe that a lot of people went home that night thinking about what’s most important in life; we saw it in their faces. The experience of working together to save a man’s life had affected them deeply, and they would never forget it. We will never forget it either.